An entire chapter of Rethinking Worldview is devoted to the skill of critical reading, helping readers become aware of assumptions and themes in cultural products -- books, films, songs, etc. -- and analyze them. At Worldview Academy camps, a highpoint of the week for students is when we break out the movie projector and discuss popular films from a Christian worldview perspective. It's interesting to look beneath the surface of the stories out there. When you've done enough of it, you start to make big-picture connections. A perfect example of this can be found at Decompose, the blog of author Mike Duran. I've had the pleasure of publishing Mike's work in Relief Journal, and I'm an avid reader of his blog, which is consistently lucid and profound.
In his post "Destined for Dystopia," Mike takes a recent Top 50 list of dystopian films as a jumping off point for worldview thinking. Why is the dystopian vision of the future -- a world of darkness and dehumanization -- so prevalent in our stories, even though so many people now think of our time as the pinnacle of history? We've been liberated from want and oppression by a blend of progressive ideas and technology, so why don't we envision utopia around the corner? Where are all the stories about the happy, shiny future?
They used to exist. As Mike says, these utopian visions were "rooted in modernity -- the belief that technology and human ingenuity can build a better world. Industrialization bolstered the utopian dream, leading us to believe we could harness the better angels of our nature, conquer disease, aging, poverty, etc." That confidence is now shattered. Why? Because no matter how good the apple, there is always a worm inside. We do not have it within us, unaided, to achieve these lofty ambitions.
The pessimistic view of the future expressed in dystopian films isn't all that far from the apparent cynicism found in the Book of Ecclesiastes, where the weariness with innovation and false hope is palpable. In that sense, the genre has something to teach us. Mike says:
The genre of dystopian films, maybe more than any other, reinforces a vital biblical theme — Man is broken. History and experience bear this out. Dystopia far more accurately reflects the human condition than does utopia. The doctrine of human depravity, whether it’s called that or not, is what fuels dystopian worlds.The good news of the Gospel, of course, is that human depravity does not get the final word, and that the new heaven and earth we look forward to will be built by a sinless hand.
The reason I recommend observations like Mike's is that they show how connections can be made between seemingly abstract doctrine and the themes and ideas inherent in stories. Ideas fuel storytelling, and stories encode their influences. The skill of interpreting these tales involves not only appreciating their beauty but understanding the various messages they communicate.